By Steve Plunkett
In the end, the discussion of Ocean Ridge’s budget for 2023-24 was a matter of nickels and dimes, with an emphasis on the nickels.
For the Town Commission’s fifth meeting on the budget this year, Town Manager Lynne Ladner prepared scenarios with a tax of $5.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value — the same rate as the 2022-23 budget year — as well as at $4.89 per $1,000 and five stops in between.
“I’ve also provided you with additional breakdowns at every 5 or .05 amounts so that you can see what any change between $5.25 and $5.50 does and what it does to your anticipated unaudited fund balances,” she explained at the start of the Sept. 5 session.
The town tax bill for a $500,000 property would have ranged from $2,445 to $2,750 in the different scenarios, a difference of $305. For the five intermediate 5-cent steps, $5.25 to $5.50, the difference narrowed to $125.
“We’re really talking about peanuts,” Vice Mayor Steve Coz said.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It really comes down to, like, nickels and dimes,” Mayor Geoff Pugh said.
After almost endorsing $5.45, commissioners settled on the $5.40 rate per $1,000 for a bill of $2,700 on a $500,000 home.
“I was hoping for 5.35 and, you know, given what we understand about the budget, that would work. But you know, 5.4 I’d be OK,” said Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy, who participated via telephone and could not vote.
Coz had argued for the highest rate.
“I think I said this last year when we had the 5.5. I said we’re going to have to go through two to three years of this in order to have the money to deal with our infrastructure problems,” he said.
Commissioner Philip Besler agreed.
“We’re going to start putting money away for the septic-to-sewer. It’s going to happen. It might not happen till 10 years but it’s sort of like retirement plans. Do you want to start putting your money away when you’re 50 years old or is it better to put it away when you’re 30 years old?” he said.
This was Ladner’s first year of preparing Ocean Ridge’s budget, and friction was apparent as she and commissioners continued to get used to each other.
When Cassidy suggested trimming costs to reach a lower tax rate, Ladner said she should have proposed that at the earlier budget meetings.
“Right now we’re at the tentative budget hearing,” Ladner said. “If we were going to have cut expenditures, it would have been appropriate for the commission to have given some input on where they wanted those cuts to be.”
At a later point Coz complained that Ladner was earmarking money for items such as the Harbour Drive drainage project when the work was not close to beginning. Ocean Ridge customarily kept such money in reserves until it was needed, he said.
“I’m, I’m lost and I cannot believe these numbers,” the vice mayor said.
At the final budget hearing on Sept. 18, Coz directed his disappointment toward former manager Tracey Stevens, saying she left no budget information behind. Commissioner Ken Kaleel, who did not attend the Sept. 5 session, thanked the staff for putting the budget together under “tenuous circumstances.” Commissioners then approved the $5.40 tax rate per $1,000 of taxable value.
The tax revenue will fund the bulk of an $11 million operating budget, up 7.4% from the year that ended Sept. 30. Ocean Ridge’s tax base rose 12.9% to $1.36 billion.
In other business on Sept. 5, the commission approved a new beach sign ordinance that allows signs to be placed only at the dune toe line, to face east or west, and to be no bigger than 18 inches square. It also permits “No Trespassing” signs to be strung across private stairways over the dunes.
Police Chief Scott McClure reported at the Oct. 2 commission meeting that police have since issued three notices of violation, giving the property owners 30 days to comply with the sign ordinance.